We are in a global environmental crisis.
Jewish tradition compels us to respond.
What is teshuva?
Teshuva or “return” is a Jewish practice of turning inward and reflecting on the transgressions we make as human beings while acknowledging that what was done in the past does not have to be repeated in our future. The practice of teshuva offers us an opportunity to face our negative actions and create a new path forward.
Traditionally, we practice teshuva from the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul through the last day of Sukkot reflecting on how we can strive to be our best selves in the coming year. But Elul is not the only time we can embrace this practice. We invite you to continue your journey of teshuva throughout 5780.
What is environmental teshuva?
Environmental teshuva is the outward manifestation of our commitment to doing better for the planet. As you examine your individual impact on the planet, consider:
- How do you relate to the planet or the climate crisis? What inspires you from the natural world?
- Which of your behaviors do you know are less than ideal? Consider the implications of your diet and transportation habits.
- What are one or two areas in which you will commit to do better?
In August 2019, Hazon had four video billboards displayed in Times Square. We debuted the message “5780: The Year of Environmental Teshuva.” Watch the video. We invite you to join us. #EnvironmentalTeshuva
Tu B’shvat Haggadah & Seder
Tu B’shvat (Feb 9-10, 2020), the new year or birthday for trees, is a wonderful time to reflect on our relationship with the natural world while learning something from some of our oldest teachers. The Torah shows great reverence for these remarkable beings and a Tu B’shvat seder (using the Hazon Tu B’shvat Haggadah!) is a great way to explore, celebrate, and learn with these majestic creatures. Consider hosting a seder in your home or community and invite others to join you on this journey of Environmental Teshuva.
We Are the Weather Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast
by Jonathan Safran Foer
We enthusiastically encourage you to read We Are the Weather and share it with your friends, families, and communities. It is a superb, readable, and very Jewish explication of how, why and in what ways our food choices matter. Hazon created a discussion guide for Jewish communities to accompany the book, which you can download for free here.
If you’re interested in hosting a book group or other program related to We Are the Weather, or anything at the intersection of Judaism, food, and climate, contact Becky O’Brien, Hazon’s Director of Food & Climate, firstname.lastname@example.org. And don’t forget to download our free WATW Discussion Guide for Jewish Communities.Download Our Discussion Guide
1) Eat a plant-rich diet.
Commit to eating less meat – red meat, poultry, and seafood – as well as less dairy and eggs. The Worldwatch Institute’s research indicates that animal agriculture is responsible for at least 51% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Everyone is starting from a different place, so “less” is different for everyone. Any amount of reduction is a step in the right direction.
2) Waste less food.
Buy only what you need. Eat leftovers. Create an “eat me first” section in your fridge for food that’s running out of time. “Best by,” “sell by,” and other dates are not expiration dates; trust your senses to tell you whether food is still safe to eat. 50% of produce in the US is never consumed and globally, “a third of the food raised or prepared does not make it from farm or factory to fork. Producing uneaten food squanders a whole host of resources—seeds, water, energy, land, fertilizer, hours of labor, financial capital—and generates greenhouse gases at every stage—including methane when organic matter lands in the global rubbish bin. The food we waste is responsible for roughly 8 percent of global emissions.” (from Project Drawdown)
3) Get to know and buy from local farmers.
Give local farmers your money (in exchange, of course, for delicious food)! Sukkot is the harvest festival. Invite your favorite farmer into your sukkah for a meal and ask him/her how the harvest is going. Don’t know a farmer? Go to a local farmers market or farm stand and introduce yourself. And then, support these hardworking people by spending some of your food budget with them.
4) Reduce packaging, especially plastic.
Pay attention to how your food is packaged and aim for less packaging overall and for better packaging. Avoid plastics, especially single-use. By 2050, there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish! Buy in bulk. Bring your own reusable bags when you go shopping – small ones for bulk products and produce, and large ones for all the groceries. Support companies that strive to reduce the amount of packaging they use and incorporate recycled content into their packaging.
5) Take a break – one day a week
Embrace the Jewish cycle of work/rest and luxuriate in Shabbat. Taking one day a week to refrain from activities that draw upon large amounts of fossil fuels not only gives you a much needed mini-vacation each week, this simple action adds up. Check out the Green Sabbath Project for more details on how you can embrace a Shabbat and save the planet!
Sermons and Divrei Torah
Hazon has collected close to 30 sermons and d’vrei Torah that focus on Environmental Teshuva. Take a moment to explore the ways that Jewish clergy and spiritual leaders across the country have engaged with Environmental Teshuva this holiday season. View the full list on our Resources For Rabbis & Spiritual Leaders page. If you would like us to share your words, please email Rabbi Isaiah Rothstein.
Learn Where Your Food Comes From
Most people have some sense that food is central to Jewish life and Jewish tradition, but they’re far less aware that individual food choices are among the top anthropogenic drivers of climate change. Hazon has compiled these resources for you to make educated food choices.
Earth Challenge 5780
A project of Jewish Emergent Network
We must respond to the climate crisis by establishing new spiritual, social and consumer norms. Rabbis and organizers in Jewish Emergent Network have created a series of simple challenges to help us shift one habit at a time so that we can move effectively and collectively toward systemic change. #Earth5780
This month our focus is: Plant a tree or grow something to eat and share
Torah: TU b’Shvat, which the rabbis called a “Rosh Hashanah for Trees,” is the ultimate example of an evolving Jewish holiday. It began as an official marking point in the ancient Hebrew calendar for laws regulating yearly fruit consumption. In the 16th century, Kabbalists came up with the TU b’Shvat Seder, a sacred meal-ritual that employed images of the tree for a meditation intended to spiritually repair the cosmos. And now, in our own time, TU b’Shvat has been reclaimed as a time to recommit to our environmental responsibilities, and to take action to repair the damage we have done to the earth. How can one holiday come to mean so many things?
These vastly different manifestations of TU b’Shvat speak to the prominence of trees in human life and consciousness. Trees, these quiet companions, have always been with us, providing us with oxygen, lumber, and food. No surprise, then, that trees have become primary symbols of meaning for us. In the earliest stories of the Torah, trees represent Life and Knowledge. But eventually, this symbol was used to represent the Torah itself, which we call “The Tree of Life.” Let us take this TU b’Shvat, then, as an opportunity to celebrate not just one aspect of trees, but the full forest, in all their manifold meanings for human beings and for all life on the planet.
Science: The climate emergency requires not only that we stop using fossil fuels, but that we find large-scale ways to capture carbon from the atmosphere. Planting more trees captures carbon and keeps it out of the atmosphere. Trees also provide a myriad of other benefits: They absorb pollutants from the atmosphere and release oxygen for us to breathe, cool our cities, conserve water, prevent soil erosion, feed us, and give habitat to 80% of plant and animal species.
Meanwhile, every day, we lose 80,000 acres of forest across the planet. Unsustainable logging, fires, clearcutting for agriculture, ranching and development, and degradation from climate change are jointly responsible. We must both plant trees and fight to preserve the world’s remaining forests.
Challenge: This month, take action to increase the number of trees or food-growing plants on the planet:
- Plant a tree on your property or in your neighborhood. Support JTree – an initiative from leading Jewish organizations to reforest our planet
- Grow something edible in your yard or on your windowsill.
What is JTree?
Hazon is proud to host the US site for JTree. JTree is an emerging international effort of Jewish organizations to mobilize Jewish people and Jewish communities around the world to plant trees as a response to the global climate crisis.
Join the Jewish Climate Coalition
What is the Jewish Climate Coalition?
- The Jewish Climate Coalition was formed by Hazon, The Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, Jewish Climate Action Network NYC, and The Jewish Theological Seminary of America about three weeks before the Global Climate Strike – it came out of a letter that was aimed at getting other Jewish organizations to sign on
- To date we have over 30 organizations signed up
- The current purpose of the group is to mobilize the Jewish community around the Global Climate Strike
- After the strike, the goal is to call a meeting for member organizations to join, and decide what the fate of this coalition will be. The Global Climate Strike, which is very much ground-up, has coincided (we believe) with a greater desire in the Jewish community to step up. We’ve sent out materials to rabbis asking them to give sermons on “Environmental Teshuva” and it’s clear that a growing number are planning to do so
Become a member organization and help us help our planet and our children’s planet!Join the Jewish Climate Coalition
- Hazon (steering committee)
- Jewish Climate Action Network NYC (steering committee)
- The Jewish Theological Seminary of America (steering committee)
- The Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan (steering committee)
- Ansche Chesed
- Aytzim: Ecological Judaism
- Based in Harlem
- B’nai Jeshurun
- Central Synagogue
- Congregation Beit Simchat Torah
- Congregation Habonim
- Educational Alliance’s Manny Cantor Center
- Fort Tryon Jewish Center
- Greater New York Labor Religion Coalition
- Jewish Veg
- Kehillat Harlem
- North American Climate, Conservation and Environment
- Park Avenue Synagogue
- Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
- Repair the World Harlem
- Riverdale YM-YWHA
- SAJ – Judaism That Stand for All
- Sid Jacobson JCC
- Society for Humanistic Judaism
- Stephen Wise Free Synagogue
- Torah Trumps Hate
- Town & Village Synagogue
- UJA-Federation of New York
- Union for Reform Judaism
- United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
- Yeshivat Chovevei Torah
Hazon Seal of Sustainability
The Hazon Seal of Sustainability is an annual program that provides guidance and support to advance sustainability-related education, action, and advocacy in your Jewish institution, organization, and community. Rooted in Jewish tradition, participation in the Hazon Seal program will, over time, make your community healthier and more sustainable, both Jewishly and environmentally!
Over the past 5 years, JOFEE Fellows and JOFEE educators around the world have been creating thoughtful curricula for engaging participants from young to old. In particular, check out the resources on Food and Climate or Environmental Justice.
For inspiration and reflections on our weekly parsha, be sure to check out the D’varim HaMakom blog – each week JOFEE Fellows reflect on how their environmental work relates to the weekly Torah portion. We recommend Light in the Dark, Blessing Family and the Earth, and Korach: Disruptive Visionary or Disgruntled Rabble-Rouser.
For more information about JOFEE or to find a JOFEE organization in your area, visit JOFEE.org.